Cecilia's story

Cecilia underwent a gender reassignment as an adult, but she was born a male child in the late 1950s. She told the Commissioner she was adopted as a baby by the Gledhill family who never showed her any affection.

‘Dad was the usual disciplinarian of his age. The only time he ever touched us was with a belt. They were told by the adoption services not to touch us at all because they might think it was funny, people might sort of wonder what they were up to. So I didn’t even know what it was to be hugged.’

In hindsight Cecilia speculates that this lack of attention made her more vulnerable to abuse than other kids – ‘If I’m not good enough to be kept by my own mother, I’m not good enough for anything else either’.

Her gender identity issues also made her a target. ‘I always felt like I was a little girl living in a boy’s body, and I think all the men that were paedophiles maybe thought I was a little girl living in a boy’s body too.’

The first of these men was a Christian minister named James O’Brian. He entered Cecilia’s life as a counsellor to help her with the depression she was suffering at age 10, and ended up sexually abusing her regularly over the next six years.

The abuse stopped when he moved interstate. Around this time Cecilia was also sexually abused during several overnight camping trips by her scoutmaster. She described these incidents as ‘painful’ and said the scoutmaster was ‘into hurting people’.

Cecilia told the Commissioner that the abuse had a devastating impact on her life, and she’s still dealing with it today. Over the years she has self-harmed, self-medicated with illegal drugs, suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, and struggled to maintain relationships.

‘Once people become my friends, I work out that they don’t like me and they’re going to use me – and if they actually knew what I was like they would hate me. So I always break it off, I always sort of finish everything. I never have friendships last more than a year or two.’

She has worked hard to heal herself but feels that her efforts have often done more harm than good.

‘I believe we inhabit a body. I live in it, it’s not actually me. And inside that I suppose our social, psychological lives are like buildings and I feel like my building got torn down and just strewn all over the place.

'I’ve tried to rebuild it where I thought it needed to be rebuilt, but in many cases I’ve over-strengthened walls that didn’t need to be strengthened, and left bare walls that needed to be put up.’

Still, she’s managed to maintain two close friendships over the past four years. ‘The longest friendships I’ve maintained. Mostly because I’m starting to come to some understanding of what has happened.’

Cecilia has also been seeing a psychologist regularly to help her cope with the issues surrounding her gender reassignment. She finds the sessions helpful but doesn’t talk much about the sexual abuse to the psychologist or anyone else.

‘I may have told three or four different people at different times but nothing happens, it just dredges up shit. My life ends up covered in rubbish again and I don’t sleep again and I panic again.

'And then it's just not being able to cope, not being able to sit still, not being able to hold a job, not being able to stay anywhere, not being able to do anything right and just hating myself. So I try not to tell people because nobody can do anything.’

Cecilia said she came to the Royal Commission because she wants people to understand that the effects of child sexual abuse are profound and long-lasting.

‘I’m still seeing the tentacles of this abuse right through my life. People need to understand: it’s not just then, it’s today. The results of the abuse are as fresh today as they were then. It doesn’t just happen up ‘till the time you walk away and then you feel better again, because you never really feel better. It’s never really over.’

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